N’s Bharatnatyam annual day was round the corner and her dance guru called a meeting for parents. I found an inconspicuous corner and sat listening dutifully to the instructions. And then the teacher said, “All women have to come in saris.” (That five meters of traditional Indian garment which can be such a nightmare to drape).
I sat up in some alarm.
I had ended my relationship with the sari some 10 years ago when the twins were born. I tried to renew it once rather tentatively and promptly tripped and fell flat while carrying a two-year-old N. That was when I swore off it. Forever.
I had no intention of going back now.
The announcement propelled me from my corner and I heard myself ask, “Can we come in a suit?” For the first time, I found the full glare of N’s dance guru’s eyes on me. I have to confess here that she is rather intimidating. You know how these gurus are - unbending principles, strict discipline and all of that. While I appreciate that an unflinching attitude is essential to teach a serious dance form I have to admit it stresses me out because I am forever fumbling unsure what I might do to upset a rule. That is exactly why I try to make myself invisible at these meetings. “Let’s keep it formal,” she said shortly, “Saris only”. I quailed and looked around for support from the other mums but all of them stared back at me with a don’t-waste-time-with-such-a-non-issue look.
For once I wished I were a man. The only instruction they had was ‘don’t come in jeans’. Hey hello! How unfair was that! We are sentenced to a struggle with five meters of cloth and all they have to do is change out of their jeans! Arrrrrgh!
I receded to my corner wondering what I’d do. Should I send someone in stead of me, I thought desperately. But I wanted to see N on stage and I already had the saris but the blouses - I wouldn’t fit into any of them any longer. Something ready made perhaps would have to do. Pushing down the panic, I reasoned, once the blouse was sorted, it wouldn’t be too bad. All I had to do was dress up, sit, watch, collect N and come home. Yeah! I could do it. I’d manage.
And then I heard the guru’s assistant calling out “Where is N’s mother?” (Yeah she doesn’t even know my name - told you I always hid away) “You’re the volunteer for the Ashtalakshmi performance.” With that she gave the word ‘volunteer’ a whole new dimension and me a whole new world of panic.
'Volunteer' meant no sitting down quietly, in fact no sitting down at all. It meant tucking your pallu at your waist and taking charge of a group of girls. Their entry on the stage and their exit, their makeup and accessories, which are mind boggling by the way. N is a junior and her costume alone had 5 pieces. Then there were some 10 bits of jewellery to go with it.
Me.. a non dancer, a non ‘makeuper’, a non stage person, a non sari wearer - me - had to do all of that! And I have no clue why I was picked. I put it down to some really bad deeds of my past birth. Karma.
But it all worked out ...
... just as most things in my life have a way of working out. Have I said this before? That I am exceptionally lucky? No, really, I am. It turned out the SIL had the perfect sari and I managed to squeeze into her blouse too. How’s that for luck?
I got dressed in 10 minutes flat. It’s amazing how it all came back to me, just the way my mum had taught me decades ago - what went where, how many pleats to go on the shoulder, how to tuck in the sari firmly so I needed just a single pin. Oooh I felt accomplished!
Besides, I had no time to fuss since N had to be dressed and we had to report early and then there were those 8 girls waiting for me at the venue.
Once there it was a blur of getting the giggly talkative bunch ready, running around with hair clips and safety pins, someone had forgotten her dupatta while another one broke her jhumka. Oh it was such delightful chaos.
Finally they were all ready and everything was perfect, N looked beautiful as did every single girl on stage. Watching the delighted, proud, excited faces around me I felt a wave of happiness wash over me or was it gratitude? Gratitude, that everything had come together so wonderfully, gratitude for being a part of so much happiness.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And to think I considered not coming for the sake of a sari.
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